Friday, December 21, 2018

Product Review: Staedtler Karat Aquarell Colored Pencils

Staedtler Karat Aquarell water-soluble colored pencils

At least a couple of times recently (in the post about sketching birds and the one about using a complement of hard and soft watercolor pencils together), I’ve alluded to the Staedtler Karat Aquarell as being the hardest artist-grade water-soluble colored pencil I have tried. (Some student-grade and vintage pencils are harder, but they are also low in pigment.) As I’m becoming more aware of how varying degrees of core hardness affect the usage (and usefulness) of colored pencils, it seemed like a good time to review the Karat Aquarell.

The silver-colored hexagonal barrel has a glossy end cap indicating the core’s hue. Its standard diameter sharpens well in any sharpener.

I first became aware of this pencil brand in the class I took at Gage last year, when I saw my instructor using it. I knew that she favored harder pencils in general, and I tend to favor softer ones, so I wasn’t sure if I would like the Karat Aquarell, but of course I wanted to try it. The set I bought confirmed that it has a hard core – much harder than the Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelles, Supracolors and Faber-Castell Albrecht Dürers that I was familiar with. In hardness, it might be comparable to Faber-Castell’s oil-based Polychromos line (which is not water-soluble). In class, I used it for a few assignments but eventually switched to my tried-and-true (and softer) favorites.

The strong pigments dissolve easily and completely in my swipe test. However, when making my sketch samples, the red pencil had some gritty bits that I associate with novelty and other low-quality pencils. I was surprised to encounter this in an artist-grade pencil. It could be a fluke, as I haven’t experienced it with other colors.
Swatches made in Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook

12/19/18 Staedtler Karat Aquarell pencils in Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook
In my wet sample sketch of the pear (at left), I applied multiple dry/wet cycles, and I was pleased that each additional layer was as easy to apply as previous ones. The relatively hard core enables points to stay sharp, which came in handy for small details like the stem’s shadow.

12/18/18 Karat Aquarells in S&B Epsilon sketchbook (no water used)
As mentioned in my recent review of Albrecht Dürer pencils, I now think it’s important to test water-soluble pencils when used without water activation as well as with, so here is the same pear again (below), this time sketched with dry Karat Aquarells. Although the hard core covered Stillman & Birn’s Epsilon surface well, and I enjoyed the mostly smooth application (except for the red’s gritty bits, which reappeared sporadically), the final colors don’t look as rich as softer pencils left dry. This is always a tradeoff: It can be easier to apply heavy color with softer pencils, but harder pencils cover the surface more thoroughly and are better for details.

Since taking the watercolor pencil class, I’ve come to appreciate harder cores for what they do well, and when I need a hard watercolor pencil, this is the one I’ll use. It’s not one I would choose, though, for general purposes.

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